Saturday, November 28, 2015


Thanks to John Whitbeck for pointing me to this article, published today in Jewish Business News. It is a brilliant essay on terrorism and politics. In focusing on 'absurdity' and the wrong-headedness of most of the world's heads of state, it doesn't delve into the clash of imperial ambitions that further international chaos and raise the specter of another world conflagration. But that's for other articles, some of which Uri Avnery has already written with his customary sparkle of wisdom and wit. 

There is no such thing as “international terrorism”.

To declare war on “international terrorism” is nonsense. Politicians who do so are either fools or cynics, and probably both.
Terrorism is a weapon. Like cannon. We would laugh at somebody who declares war on “international artillery”. A cannon belongs to an army, and serves the aims of that army. The cannon of one side fire against the cannon of the other.
Terrorism is a method of operation. It is often used by oppressed peoples, including the French Resistance to the Nazis in WW II. We would laugh at anyone who declared war on “international resistance”.
Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military thinker, famously said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. If he had lived with us today, he might have said: “Terrorism is a continuation of policy by other means.”
Terrorism means, literally, to frighten the victims into surrendering to the will of the terrorist.
Terrorism is a weapon. Generally it is the weapon of the weak. Of those who have no atom bombs, like the ones which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which terrorized the Japanese into surrender. Or the aircraft which destroyed Dresden in the (vain) attempt to frighten the Germans into giving up.

Since most of the groups and countries using terrorism have different aims, often contradicting each other, there is nothing “international” about it. Each terrorist campaign has a character of its own. Not to mention the fact that nobody considers himself (or herself) a terrorist, but rather a fighter for God, Freedom or Whatever....

Read more

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Still can't believe it. 94 today, Nov. 21st.

(According to my dear, long departed, Mother, our absent-minded Dr. Niemointin filed two days late, so my birth certificate erroneously makes Nov. 23, 1921 "official".)

I'm constantly reminded that, although I'm lucky, I'm not unique. Everyone who remarks on my age is sure to tell me about someone who's 96, 101, or even 105. But my body finds new ways each day to remind me that I really am old, even if in pretty good shape 'for my age'.

November is also my time to remember anniversaries. Gail and I happily celebrated our 5th this November 4th. Roz and I married on November 25,1942, when we were 22 and 21, and were together for 66 years until she died. I've 'lucked out' not only re longevity, but in love, marriage and family.

Carrying on....

Monday, November 16, 2015


ISIL’s crusade is reaching out to inflict the horrors of war on civilian populations wherever possible. It has to be defeated — in the Middle East and anywhere it tries to strike.

That can only happen if there is a major shift in policies that contributed much to the horrendous chaos that opened up Iraq and Syria to ISIL. But as we have seen before, acts of terrorism can be exploited to fuel fear, nativist hatreds, and a clamor to unleash US military might. That is exactly what we’re getting from the GOP presidential aspirants. The Democratic candidates have said little so far. Bernie Sanders properly points out he’s “no fan of  ‘regime change’” and cites his vote against the disastrous Iraq war. Hillary Clinton hasn’t said much beyond asserting her toughness.

Obama and Kerry seem to be considering a shift away from stubborn policies that have failed. Obama’s press conference after the G20 Summit in Turkey is essential reading. With patience and clarity, he repeatedly counters the gang-up of hawkish reporters. There’s a departure from the long-standing ultimatum that Assad must go before any negotiated effort to end the Syrian civil war; he pulls back from the refusal to have anything to do with Russia and Iran in negotiations concerning the Syrian tragedy or the fight against ISIL. Obama insists that there must not be a return to a US invasion and war that misfired in Iraq with such devastating consequences. He suggests the need for collective strategies involving the UN, recognizing the primacy of the people and nations of the Middle East both on the relatively short-run challenges and the long-range progress of the region.

Culling the positives out of Obama’s press conference and summarizing them here may make the outlook seem brighter than it is. There are enormous obstacles, some of them based on the reality of extensive US military intervention and imperial interests that continue to drive our foreign policy. For that matter, competing economic interests and power rivalries characterize all the “players” in the drama. Progress and peace require a degree of cooperation among nations that have selfishly wrought havoc in the Middle East since the First World War. Even harder, it requires encouragement and faith that the people of the Middle East can overcome the legacy of imperialism, tyranny and religious fanaticism. That outlook flickered briefly, but brilliantly, in the Arab Spring.

My focus is on the extreme importance of what happens in the United States in the wake of the ISIL assaults in Paris and the likelihood of more to come. Obama’s apparent opening toward a new approach deserves support. Its model is the recently negotiated P+1 agreement with Iran. This situation is more difficult because it requires not only a collaborative agreement to end the Syrian war, but developing a common strategy to defeat ISIL. Beyond that, any degree of success depends on serious efforts to cope with the appalling human misery overwhelming millions throughout the Middle East.

Americans can’t let the hawks stampede us back into panic and illusions that US military supremacy can remake the world. Obama’s effort to change course (at least to some degree) is still fragile, far from an accomplished fact. It demands support from the majority of Americans who have had enough of endless wars. We should insist that the Democratic candidates support inclusive diplomacy and the United Nations. Hillary might benefit from reading Obama’s press conference comment on  “no fly zones”, a proposal with which she continues to curry favor among the neocons.

There is a nightmare, I must admit, that haunts me. It is that Obama’s tentative move away from a divisive, war-oriented foreign policy gets aborted. An America headed by Cruz or Rubio or Fiorina (or even by a Democrat who doesn't commit to a new vision in foreign policy) would be inviting again the worst catastrophes of the 20th Century. The nightmare gets worse if Netanyahu is our closest ally.

But, in today’s very complicated and dangerous world, I like a lot of what Obama had to say in his Ankara press conference. I believe it reflects the better judgment of the majority of Americans. If we organize and speak out, the nightmare may fade.

Monday, November 9, 2015


This week, with 17,000 rheumatologists gathered at Moscone Center in San Francisco,  the American College of Rheumatology gave its highest award, the Gold Medal for lifetime achievement, to David Wofsy. Gail and I were there and shared the week-end with David's immediate family. Modest, as he has always been, David's acceptance speech credited his outstanding accomplishments to all the wonderful people who became his colleagues over many years. But permit this old man to boast a bit, especially since it's the truth. David is more than a fine scientist, doctor and teacher; he is admired by friends, co-workers, students and, yes, his whole loving family for the kind of person he is, for his character and values as a human being. I take pleasure in his contributions to science, health and education, but also in the social conscience that moves him. As an undergraduate, David and a few of his friends lay down in front of McNamara's car at Harvard to protest the Vietnam War; as an intern at UCSF, he helped organize against intolerable conditions and for unionization; and as a professor and dean, nothing has been more important to him than to open the medical field and graduate training to large numbers of black and brown students. It may not be a gold medal, but this is my salute to a special son. I only wish Roz and Carla, mother and sister, could have been here to embrace OUR BOY.